Season of Silly Stunts

Sometimes, it’s all medium and no message

In September, Father Oscar Cruz, retired bishop of Dagupan and Lingayen, gave the Senate a list of people in government
he said were involved in jueteng, an illegal numbers game.

Cruz soon admitted, however, that he could not back his accusations up.

The list was based on what his contacts in his Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng (People’s Crusade Against Jueteng) told him. Proving the allegations, he said, was up to the government.

As the Senate hearings on jueteng dragged on, Cruz demanded subpoenas for the people he accused, saying their absence confirmed their guilt. But it was too late.

Having admitted that his accusations were based on hearsay, there was nothing to compel people like Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda and her husband Rodolfo to show up.

Last month, performance artist Carlos Celdran, dressed as a character from a Jose Rizal novel (if not Rizal himself), interrupted a Church service to raise awareness for the reproductive health bill.

If passed, the RH bill (bills, really) will require government to distribute contraceptives. But the Church rejects any form of artificial contraception and has been lobbying against the bill.

Arrested for offending religious beliefs, Celdran said it was his way of protesting the Church meddling in secular affairs.

In the media frenzy that followed, supporters of the RH bill engaged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in a propaganda war. The Philippine Freethinkers, of which Celdran is presumably a member, reveled in the tremendous blow they landed on the Church.

At an impromptu press conference outside the CBCP, one Freethinker interrupted Monsignor Juanito Figura, CBCP Secretary-General, saying he had no right interfering in something he had never experienced.

It was a great soundbite and made for good TV, but the argument had no merit. If that were true, the activist, having never been a priest, should not have lectured the bishops on how to do their jobs. That particular Freethinker was playing to the crowd and not to logic.

And although Celdran’s stunt did raise awareness of the bill, it did not raise the level of debate on it. Going by a report by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, attention was focused on personalities and not on the bill itself.

At a Senate hearing on the reproductive health bill, the Philippine Freethinkers were oddly silent. Both sides of the debate made outrageous statements, and this was where their free thinking would have made the most difference.

Photo credit:
Senators Pia Cayetano, TG Guingona, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile at the public hearing on the RH bill

There was no better time for Celdran to interrupt than when Eric Manalang, president of Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, told the Senate committee that he rejected the very idea of the bill.

Although the reproductive health bill promotes artificial contraception, it is much more than that. It includes programs to pull down the number of mothers who die in childbirth and soon after, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations.

Manalang told Senator Pia Cayetano, who presided over the hearing, that he didn’t want the country to be pressured into achieving the MDGs. Celdran or any of the other Freethinkers should have jumped in at the sheer lack of logic of letting hundreds of mothers and babies die, but Celdran was out of the country and the gallery was silent.

To be fair, the Philippine Freethinkers appear to be more about bringing down the Church than actually promoting reproductive rights. Celdran, who has been a staunch advocate of contraception, may have been more a cat’s paw than the rallying point he was supposed to be.

But having presented one of their own as a martyr for reproductive health, staying away from the halls of Congress where the fate of the reproductive health bill will be decided shows incredibly bad faith.

Advocates need to go beyond gimmicks. Or, having caught the public’s attention, find that they actually have nothing to say.


5 thoughts on “Season of Silly Stunts”

  1. Amen! Otherwise, they’re really no different from politicians right before election season. Which is actually worse, since these groups are supposedly well-meaning citizens, but in no wise accountable to anyone or anything.

      1. Yeah, true for a lot of groups. I think while they started out with the right intentions, they can get sucked in by the system too, and forget what they’re there for. It’s annoying when they play the marginalized card, even if sometimes they’re anything but marginalized– stunts cost money, is all im saying.

  2. The Freethinkers are not marginalized except maybe in the sense that their numbers are marginal. (And that’s tragic in itself.)

    As in Greece, you need a bit of financial security before pondering the existence of God, etc.

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